When Abby Chronicister started college six years ago, she struggled with anxiety and depression. After class, she often retired to her bed. Then she adopted her first two rats, Luci and Lena.
"The little critters got me out of bed knowing I had little lives to take care of," said the 25-year-old graphic designer from Mission, Kansas. "They bond with you like a dog does. You may not have the energy to walk a dog, but you can manage to fill a water bottle."
Chronister kept her rats in a cage in the corner of her dorm room. They were silent. They were clean. And she loved her roommate.
Rats may not be everyone's idea of a perfect pet or a reassuring companion for anxious times, but they do have a following, albeit a small one.
According to the US Census Bureau's American Housing Survey, about half of American households have pets, mostly dogs or cats.
About 4 percent of pet owners own small animals, according to an online survey of 10,000 current pet owners by the American Pet Products Association, a nonprofit trade association. And of those pet owners, only 6 percent own a rat or mouse—far behind guinea pigs (27 percent), rabbits (27 percent) and hamsters (25 percent), but ahead of gerbils (4 percent) and hermit crabs (2 percent). ).
Most pet rodents — such as gerbils, hamsters and guinea pigs — have a tendency to bite, said veterinarian Cory Bassett, who specializes in exotic pet care in Overland Park, Kan. she said.
But rats bred specifically to be pets, she said, are calm — and don't tend to bite the hand that feeds them, she said, and seem to bond emotionally with cagemates and owners.
"Rats are a misunderstood pet," Bassett said. "People think of them as pests and vermin. People who think they're a very dirty pet just don't know what they have to offer. If you're looking for a rodent to bond with, I'd recommend a rat ."
The rats sold in pet stores, used in laboratory experiments and adopted from private breeders are all Norwegian rats. Despite their name, they are originally from China, but now live everywhere – except Antarctica. Lab rats, which are not sold to the general public, come from a seller's limited genetic supply and are kept in isolated cages where they do not interact with humans. Lab rats are not meant to be pets.
"I actually have positive feelings about rats, but I don't want a rat as a pet," says Professor Peggy Mason, a neurobiologist at the University of Chicago who uses rats in her research on fear and empathy. “It is professional courtesy. We have a good partnership, me and the rats. It's just not a pet relationship. Also, my cats would make short work of the rats.
The general public primarily purchases pet rats from two places: retail stores and private breeders, known as ratteries. Stores sell rats for $10 to $15, pejoratively referred to as feeder rats because they are bought as food for reptiles or birds. Randomly bred for quantity, these rats are rarely handled.
Private breeders often buy their first rats from stores and then selectively breed them over several generations. These creatures are called fancy rats and are bred to be friendly and curious companions. Their price can range from $25 to $100 each, depending on the length of the pedigree. Rats bred selectively over several generations cost more than rats bred only once.
Rat enthusiasts usually agree that the critters have only one major flaw: they die prematurely.
"They only live two to three years," Chronister said sadly, "which is one of the heartbreaking parts because they grab you and never let go." Still, its short lifespan is a big selling point for first-time pet parents of younger children, who can quickly lose interest in the new family member.
Domesticated rats, like most animals kept as pets, carry diseases.
In 2017, Norway rats from 31 rat farms infected 17 people in 11 states in the first known zoonosis (spread between animals and humans) of the Seoul virus in the United States and Canada. Three people were hospitalized with the virus, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says can cause health problems ranging from a mild flu-like illness to kidney failure and death.
Seoul virus, commonly found in wild rats, is spread through rat urine or feces, or through virus particles inhaled from the rats' contaminated bedding. The CDC recommends that pregnant women, children age 5 or younger, and people with weakened immune systems avoid owning rats.
An infested rattery kept cages stacked against the kitchen wall near the dining and dining table, CDC epidemiologist Trevor Shoemaker said.
"We recommended depopulation: kill all your rats and start over, but they didn't," he said. “They were attached to it. They all had names.” Infected colonies that were not killed were quarantined, Shoemaker said, and owners were instructed in proper sanitation and ventilation.
Domesticated rats can also transmit leptospirosis, salmonellosis and rat bite fever, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. These diseases are considered rare, have a low mortality rate, and can also be transmitted by other animals, including dogs, cats, mice, guinea pigs, gerbils, ferrets, weasels, squirrels, monkeys, cattle, and wild animals. Preventive measures mainly include washing hands after handling animals, avoiding biting animals and staying away from potentially contaminated water such as floods.
The American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association (AFRMA) recommends purchasing domesticated, socialized rats from breeders who can provide the animal's health history, exact age and temperament of the parents.
"Do your homework before adopting a rat as a pet," said AFRMA President Karen Robbins. "Some people are allergic to bedding or urine. In rare cases, people are allergic to the rat itself. Research the pet before buying.
Fancy rats come in seven varieties based on fur, ear and tail types: Standard (short, glossy fur), Rex (curly hair and curly whiskers), Satin (thin, long fur), Brushcoat (stiff, coarse hair), tailless (born without a tail, similar to Manx cats), hairless (born without fur) and dumbo (ears on the side instead of on top), according to AFRMA. The Dumbo rat is the most popular variety today thanks to its namesake in the 2019 Disney movie, Robbins said.
"A well-bred rat will be a bit like a well-bred dog," says Chronister, who now breeds rats as a hobby and owns Dumbo rats. 'They will be nice. They will be curious. And they want to hug.”
Studies suggest that rats dream when they sleep, giggle when they tickle, and grind their teeth (called bruxing) with pleasure when petted - just like when cats purr. Rats are also empathic, according to a study in which lab rats rescued other rats in captivity who had helped them in the past.
"Rats will help other rats, and that's pretty amazing," said Mason, who led the study. "They did it because they not only recognized that another rat was in need, but they actually sensed that another rat was in need."
And the animals can receive litter box training just like cats, said Nina Hohimer, who raises 36 beautiful rats in Shawnee, Kan., with her two daughters. She simply places rat clippings and a smooth river stone in a litter box in the cage. The animals quickly intervene. They climb into the box, defecate in the litter box and urinate on the urinal to mark their territory.
Hohimer keeps his 36 rats in his basement room, safely away from his two dogs. Nine cages equipped with hammocks and toys line the wall of the small room a few steps from her bed, where she likes to fall asleep to the sound of their running feet, little squeaks — and the occasional squabble.
Hohimer, a domestic violence survivor, brought home her first rat after rescuing it from an abusive owner. “Rats have helped me and my girls deal with a lot of emotional and psychological healing. The guys nestle under our chins when we have flashbacks, anxiety issues, or when we're feeling particularly sad. They help tremendously in regaining our confidence and calming our nerves.”
"Recovering from trauma is a long road," she said, "and I'd say it's definitely easier if these little guys are helping us." Anakin, her favorite rat, crawled over her shoulder and hid behind her neck, occasionally brooding at the stranger in the room. Hohimer offered a treat to persuade the creature to pose for a photo.
Like many rat owners, Hohimer has taught his pocket pets to come when called by name. Other owners have taught their rats to fetch a ball, run an obstacle course, jump through hoops - and even pull a string to raise a flag.
When not performing tricks, the larger males enjoy sitting on their owners' shoulders and snuggling up against their necks. Chroniclers said male rats are more suitable pets for children because their large bodies are easier to handle compared to the smaller females, which are on average about 30 percent lighter and weigh about half a pound to a pound. Her largest male rat weighed over 11/2 pounds. "He was a walrus," she said, laughing. Men are also less likely to run away, she said.
Bassett said that hormones are responsible for the different behaviors. Female rats, hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs all seem to be more independent and active, while males are more interactive with people. And neutered rats are the friendliest, she said.
Because a female rat can produce litters of six to 12 pups every three weeks, reputable breeders usually only sell these social animals in same-sex pairs. Bassett also encourages rat owners to neuter their pets, a procedure that can cost about $300.
"I discourage people from breeding, especially rats," Bassett said. "If you don't know what you're doing, you'll have a pack of rats in a month."
Chloe LaPointe decided to skip the expensive procedure when she adopted two male rats in Bristol, Tennessee, where she lives.
Then one day LaPointe discovered that her boy rat was really a girl with an unusually large protrusion. Now she takes care of 24 rats. "I accidentally had a brooding situation," LaPointe said. "I'm thinking of buying a bird for my next pet."
Rats can make great pets! Rats are easy to care for, have very little odor, and they rarely bite. They are affectionate and intelligent animals that often will bond quickly with their owners and easily learn new tricks.Do you think rats make good pets? ›
Rats can make great pets! Rats are easy to care for, have very little odor, and they rarely bite. They are affectionate and intelligent animals that often will bond quickly with their owners and easily learn new tricks.Why would anyone want a pet rat? ›
Rats are very popular family pets. They are extremely intelligent, inquisitive, interactive, and social. They can be easily trained to come when called and readily learn to perform tricks on command.How do rats have fun? ›
Rats will chew ropes as well as climb them, so they should be made of natural fibres (such as cotton). Opportunities to run, forage, explore and play - rats are active and like playing, especially when they're young.How do you comfort a pet rat? ›
While you pet them, it is a good idea to talk to them in a quiet, friendly-sounding voice so they know you're not a threat. If your rat begins to seem scared, put them back in the cage and give them a treat. Repeat this process every day until they feel comfortable with you holding them.Do rats feel happy? ›
The best way to tell if a rat's happy, according to a new study, is to look at its ears. A happy rat's ears hang relaxed to the sides (right), instead of perked up (left).Are rats or mice better pets? ›
Unlike mice, rats are communal and do well housed in mixed groups of several males and females. Rats are common pets and are considered one of the better rodent pets because of their larger size and calm nature.Why do pet rats lick you? ›
If your rat nibbles or licks you, he or she might be showing you affection by grooming you. Rats also have an excellent sense of smell, so your rat might nibble or lick your hand or smell you after you eat or prepare food.Are pet rats loyal? ›
Besides their little squeaks, rats are exceedingly low-volume pets. Rats Are Personable Companions: A rat will create a strong, lifelong bond with its owner. They are loyal and personable creatures, able to submit to the owner as to the leader of the rat pack.Why are rats so good at surviving? ›
The number one survival trait that has allowed rats to survive for millions of years is their ability to reproduce vastly and quickly. With a gestational period of approximately 21 days, rats are baby-making machines. Their pups become fertile at as young as five weeks of age.
- Rats are intelligent. ...
- Rats show empathy with other rats. ...
- Like humans, rats go through multiple stages of sleep. ...
- Rats laugh when they're tickled. ...
- Rats are social animals and need other rats for companionship. ...
- Rats are very clean animals. ...
- Rats need their whiskers to help them balance and find their way around.
Rats are rodents that do actually serve a purpose in the ecosystem. They are scavengers and opportunistic eaters. They will eat garbage and other things that people throw away. Plus, rats are important as part of the predatory ecosystem.What do rats enjoy the most? ›
Rats enjoy playing in cardboard boxes with holes cut in them, toilet paper tubes stuffed with shredded paper or hay, small pieces of apple branches cut from a pesticide-free tree in the yard, ping-pong balls and paper bags from the grocery store.Can rats have pizza crust? ›
Rats love people food such as cooked pasta, small pieces of egg or chicken, or pizza crust. Rats should NOT be given chocolate, corn, candy, carbonated or caffeinated drinks, onions, or any kind of sticky food like pea- nut butter or toffee.How do you get a rat to trust you? ›
Offer a treat to the rat while holding it to encourage positivity. Keep your hands open so the pet rat can move around. Gradually decrease the treats from every day to every other day to once or twice a week; this encourages the rat to trust you more, but do not completely cut off the treats.What to do when your rat dies? ›
After donning your mask and protective gear, place the rat into the plastic bag and seal it. Then, place that bag into a separate trash bag and tie the trash bag tightly. This may seem like overkill, but it's better to be safe than sorry. You may be able to throw the rat into your outdoor trash bin.Do rats cry when sad? ›
Rats can cry tears just like humans, and, like humans, they do so when they are sad, upset, stressed, or sick.Can rats feel sad? ›
Rats are social creatures and need the company of other rats. They use their sense of smell to recognise others, finding out about where they've been and what they've been doing. As rats are social animals, they can get depressed and develop abnormal behaviour if they live on their own.Are rats as smart as mice? ›
Mice were long thought to be less intelligent than rats, but recent research is proving this assumption to be incorrect. In fact, studies are indicating that mice have many of the same decision-making abilities as rats.Do pet rats stink? ›
Rats are in fact incredibly clean animals. They frequently groom themselves and should not smell. If you are encountering problems with your rats smelling or you're concerned about this as a potential problem, rest assured it can be avoided.
Rats will kill and eat mice. This practice is known as muricide, and scientists have been studying the reasons for this behavior for decades. Moreover, while the two most common invasive rat species, the Norway rat and the roof rat, favor very different habitats, they are natural enemies.Is it OK to kiss a rat? ›
Do not kiss, nuzzle, or hold rats close to your face. This can startle your rats and also increase your chances of being bitten. Bites can spread germs and can make you sick. You don't have to touch pet rats to get sick from their germs.Why does my rat stare at me? ›
Dogs have “puppy eyes,” but rats are just as gifted at looking pitiful to get your attention. You've probably noticed your rats hovering at the cage door, staring at you with pleading eyes. Whether they are begging to be fed, let out to play, or looking for a snuggle, this is a sure sign they want your attention.Will rats cuddle with you? ›
Rats can be extremely social and even like to cuddle!Can rats eat chocolate? ›
Chocolate is not poisonous to rats, as they are able to digest the chemical theobromine, which can be harmful to other animals. However, only use chocolate as an occasional treats, as although they do enjoy it, it can lead to weight gain and conditions such as diabetes.Do rats get attached to people? ›
Rats make lifelong bonds with their owners Ask any rat owner, and he or she will tell you: Rats recognize their owners and respond to their sight and voice. They are very social and love to hang out with human family members on the couch or on peoples' shoulders or in their laps.Can rats learn their names? ›
Rats in a group can all comfortably learn their own names and this recall is picked up extremely quickly, especially if there are treats on offer! Litter training: Much like cats, rats can be trained to use a litter tray. Simply put some soiled litter into the tray each time you clean the cage.Do rats need to be killed? ›
Killing them will only cause other rats to move into the newly available spaces. After rat-proofing your building, give the remaining animals a chance at life by live-trapping and releasing them outdoors. To rat-proof a building, put all food and garbage in sturdy, well-sealed containers that rats can't gnaw through.Can rats survive a fall? ›
Rat fact: Rats are excellent jumpers and can leap 36 inches vertically and 48 inches horizontally. Rat fact: Rats can fall from a height of 50 feet without getting seriously injured.Why is my rat flicking his tail? ›
Tail wagging may involve the whole tail or as little as the tail tip. The function of tail wagging is unknown in rats, but it appears to be associated with excitement and tension. For example, rats may writhe their tails during aggressive encounters with each other, or when facing a predator.
While not only socially intelligent, they are also great problem solvers and thinkers. Studies have found rats to show empathy and regret, dream, reciprocate favors, strategize, and adapt quickly to new environments.Why are rats so smart? ›
Even though the rat brain is smaller and less complex than the human brain, research has shown that the two are remarkably similar in structure and function. Both consist of a vast amount of highly connected neurons that are constantly talking to each other.Why are rats so successful? ›
They're very adaptable, just like humans. You know, they moved around with us because they can live in lots of different places and figure out how to survive. They also - you know, they're not lone wolves. They're like humans.What feelings do rats have? ›
Rats are sentient animals (capable of experiencing negative and positive feelings) and yet both glue traps and anticoagulants can lead to extreme suffering.What are rats afraid of? ›
Rats are afraid of human activity, mostly because humans are so much larger than they are. Rats also fear predators such as hawks, eagles, and other birds of prey. Other animals that rats are afraid of include your cat as well as rat terriers and other dogs that hunt rodents. Rats fear becoming a meal for a snake.What would happen if there was no rats? ›
For example, some rodents are important for pollinating certain plants, and without them many ecosystems would quickly collapse.What smell do rats love? ›
Smells and Odors that attract rats
Odors and smells that come from pet waste, pet food, garbage containers, barbecue grills, birdfeeders, and even from unharvested fruit and nuts from plants can attract rats and mice.
Rat Are Social Animals
2 They become attached to other rats and recognize their own family members but rats also easily bond with their human owners and make for affectionate pets. Pet rats enjoy being stroked by their owners and sometimes even enjoy a gentle massage, a scratch behind the ears, or a simple tickle.
Substituting Honey for Refined Carbohydrates Protects Rats from Hypertriglyceridemic and Prooxidative Effects of Fructose.What food do rats not like? ›
In addition to plants, rats also dislike certain spices like peppermint, cloves, cayenne pepper, and chili. The smell of these near your bird feeder will also deter rats.
Food products that have been exposed to filth, like rats, mice and other rodents, can make you or your family members sick. This includes food and drinks for people as well as food for animals, like pet food, bird seed or fish flakes. Throw away food products in plastic and paper containers.Will a rat try to bite me? ›
Healthy rats typically avoid people and prefer to be active when buildings are quiet. However, when cornered, they will lunge and bite to defend themselves. The saliva of some species of rats carries hazardous diseases, such as leptospirosis and Hantavirus. In rare cases, rat bite victims may contract rat-bite fever.How do I show my rat I love him? ›
- Feed them a healthy diet (….. ...
- Find new ways to play with them – Intellectual stimulation is so important for our ratties since they're extraordinarily intelligent. ...
- Give them as large a cage as you possibly can.
- Keep their cage super clean.
Imagine dead rats decomposing in your walls! Not only will that corpse smell horrific enough to make people sick, but it can also attract more pests, including other rats.Do rats get sad when their cage mate dies? ›
Rats can experience grief after the death of a companion just as humans can. Although rats may not have the intellectual ability to rationalize such a loss, it is clear that they recognize their companion is gone and they can show many of the same physical manifestations that we feel.Can rats bond with humans? ›
Rats can build strong bonds with humans (and even high-five!) As well as interacting with their cage mates, pet rats can build strong bonds with their owners too.Are rats high maintenance? ›
Rats are low maintenance
Rats are very low maintenance pets to own. They are very comfortable in their own environment and can go long periods of the day without much attention. If you are the type of owner that is away for long periods of the day then pet rats may be a good choice for you.
Do not kiss, nuzzle, or hold rats close to your face. This can startle your rats and also increase your chances of being bitten. Bites can spread germs and can make you sick. You don't have to touch pet rats to get sick from their germs.Are female or male rats nicer? ›
Male rats tend to be quite cuddly and affectionate pets with a mellow temperament. They are likely to enjoy snuggling up with you for some head scratches. If you want a more independent and adventurous companion, a female rat may be the pet for you. Female rats are quite active and like to get busy exploring.What does rat pee smell like? ›
So what does rat urine smell like? It smells of ammonia. Ammonia can cause burns to skin if it is in a strong enough concentration. If the cage of a pet rat has urine deposits on it these can be removed by mixing vinegar with water in a one to four ratio.
Rats are social creatures and need the company of other rats. They use their sense of smell to recognise others, finding out about where they've been and what they've been doing. As rats are social animals, they can get depressed and develop abnormal behaviour if they live on their own.What makes rats happy? ›
Things like: food puzzles, mazes, teaching them tricks, free-ranging (only in rat-proofed rooms), digging boxes, and pea fishing, to name a few.Are rats the cleanest pets? ›
Rats are very clean.
“People often think of rats as dirty sewer creatures, but they're actually quite clean and good about grooming,” Graham said. “In fact, rats groom more frequently and thoroughly than cats.”
Did You Know? Mice and rats are fastidiously clean animals, grooming themselves several times a day. In fact, rats and mice are less likely than dogs or cats to catch and transmit parasites and viruses.Should you bathe rats? ›
Owning a pet rat
You don't even have to worry about bathing your pet rat. They are very clean animals and although they can be bathed using dog shampoo (as long as it is not designed to treat fleas or ticks) in most cases a simple wipe over with a damp cloth is all that is needed from time to time.
Rats live for around 2 years, but some may live longer.How often do rats have to poop? ›
The average rat makes between 30 to 50 droppings a day. Rats also eat their food in one sitting instead of munching on it. This eating pattern means rat droppings are often found in a pile instead of scattered.